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COVID-19 Update: Burlington Council Calls on Province to Increase Supports for Business; Approves Property Tax Deferral; Parking Hearings by Telephone Only

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To mitigate the impact of COVID-19, City Council has unanimously approved a property tax deferral program;  approved a plan to get recreation and other services up and running as soon as permitted, and passed a resolution for additional provincial supports for businesses. The decisions were made at a Special Council meeting today (Tuesday, Jan. 11), following discussion at the Corporate Services, Strategy, Risk and Accountability Committee (CSSRA) on Jan. 10.

See the full CSSRA agenda and staff report here: Item 4.5 & staff presentation on service modifications – operational decisions – BLT-ECG-Service Leads.

Council also received an information report on service delivery modifications approved by the Burlington Leadership Team, Emergency Control Group and/or service leads related to: a mandatory staff vaccination policy, new masking requirements, sick pay for part-time staff, testing to return to work policy, shifting parking hearings to telephone only, and requiring appointments for commissioning services and marriage licences.

For additional information see the report on the Jan. 10 CSSRA agenda (Item 4.1):

More details on these decisions and information items are below.

DECISION-MAKING DURING COVID-19

City Council receives an update from staff on the impact of COVID-19 at every Corporate Services, Strategy, Risk and Accountability Committee (CSSRA) meeting, and if needed at Council. Staff distinguish between information items, and items requiring Council approval. In between Committee and Council  meetings, the Emergency Control Group meets twice per week (more often if necessary) to make decisions.  The ECG membership includes the Mayor and senior leadership from each city service area. If necessary, items are referred by staff or ECG to a Regular or Special Council meeting for Council decision-making on matters that impact service levels, finances, corporate policy, community impacts or reputational and other risks.

COVID-19 DECISIONS BY COUNCIL, JAN. 11

The following items were approved at CSSRA, Jan. 10 (see full agenda: Item 4.5; COVID-19 emergency response verbal update staff presentation) and ratified at a Special Council meeting Jan. 11, after the Community Planning Regulation & Mobility Committee meeting.

RESOLUTION SEEKING ADDITIONAL PROVINCIAL SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES

Council at its Special Council meeting of Jan. 11, approved a resolution seeking additional provincial support for business authored by the Burlington Economic Recovery Network and patterned after an advocacy letter from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, moved and seconded by the two Council Members that sit on BERN, Councillor Kelvin Galbraith and Mayor Marianne Meed Ward.

The resolution calls on the Government of Ontario to:

  • Immediately reinstate the $20,000 Ontario Small Business Grant
  • Prioritize the distribution of Rapid Tests to businesses to support workplace safety
  • Provide updated practical guidance to businesses on managing COVID-19 in the workplace in the absence of Rapid/PCR test availability.

Read the full text of the resolution at the bottom of this post.

PART-TIME STAFF RETENTION STRATEGY

Council also approve a part-time staff retention/redeployment (where possible) strategy in order to be prepared to resume winter programming Jan. 26 (subject to  any new provincial announcements), for a net cost of: $470,000 (Revenue Loss) – $125,000 (Mitigation Measures) = $345,000 (Net Cost).

By retaining part-time staff, including school crossing guards and recreation staff, the city is in a position to immediately reopen services when provincial restrictions ease, and also saves time and money in recruitment. With every layoff the city loses 20% of our staff, in a labour market already experiencing shortages. Staff advised council of the following risks of not maintaining part-time staff:

  • Shut down impacts 390 part time staff, many with specialized skills and training
  • Each time we cycle through layoff and rehiring, we lose approx. 20% of our complement
  • Existing staff shortage expected to be exacerbated
  • Significant time and effort to get staff off and back on payroll
  • Can take 2-3 weeks to resume service when staff are laid off

During the shutdown, part-time staff will be engaged through:

  • Support for business continuity by backfilling for full-time staff who are isolating, sick, or otherwise unavailable
  • Redeployment to services that continue to operate, such as virtual programs, outdoor activities, Rotary Pond, and the Glice surface
  • Assisting with extra, necessary tasks such as: minor facility renewal, regulatory compliance items, and filing relating to record retention
  • Completing on-line training
  • Completing in-person training as permitted by the regulations and safely conducted
PROPERTY TAX DEFERRAL PROGRAM

Council supported implementing a  property tax deferral program similar to the 2021 program , which waives penalty and interest on outstanding property tax. Most taxpayers continued to pay on time during 2020 and 2021, while some had difficulties. Property taxes must be current prior to the pandemic (March 1, 2020), and property owners would need to attest that they are experiencing financial hardship directly related to COVID-19

Eligibility Criteria

Homeowners

  • Prolonged suspension of pay
  • Loss of employment

Businesses

  • Extreme business revenue loss
  • Business closure

There is an expectation that property owners with tenants should be passing on the deferral arrangement.

The financial impact of this program is dependent on the number of applications and total tax payments deferred (2020 deferral plan was 260 while 2021 was 30).

Council also directed the Chief Financial Officer to track and monitor the financial implications of all the above service delivery program changes and report back as part of the ongoing COVID-19 financial impact reporting to Council.

COVID-19 DECISIONS BY ECG/STAFF:

Council also received an information report on service delivery modifications approved by the Burlington Leadership Team, Emergency Control Group and/or service leads related to:

  • Corporate staff vaccination policy
  • Sick pay for part-time staff
  • New masking requirements for staff
  • Testing to return to work policy
  • Parking hearings move to telephone only
  • Service Burlington moves in appointment-only for commissioning services and marriage licences

This report was received and filed. For additional information see the agenda (Item 4.1):

Corporate Staff Vaccination Policy
  • Effective January 5, 2022, the City’s COVID-19 Staff Vaccination Policy was amended to include mandatory vaccination for City staff wherein proof of vaccination will be required by April 1, 2022. The new mandate applies to all current staff and to any new staff hired by the City from this time forth.
  • Effective December 21, 2021, the City’s COVID-19 Staff Vaccination policy was amended to include mandatory vaccination for all Fire Department wherein proof of vaccination will be required by March 1, 2022.
Sick pay for part-time staff

Effective January 1, 2022, re-introducing up to 10 paid shifts for approved absences related to COVID applicable to all part-time staff

Masking requirement in city workplaces

Use of medical grade masks and respirators is recommended and are being made available to staff. Cloth masks are no longer recommended or, if used, should be in conjunction with a procedure mask under a snug fitting cloth mask.

  • Effective January 4, 2022, a source control mask must be worn in the workplace, including at your workstation and only removed very briefly for eating or drinking.
“Test to stay” Protocols

This protocol allows quicker return to work, with a negative COVID-19, subject to criteria:

  • In place for Fire Department and Specialized Transit
  • Fully vaccinated high-risk Close Contacts (outside of household) may only return to work within the 10-day isolation period, after obtaining the first negative PCR test, if they remain asymptomatic.
  • Daily rapid testing of high-risk close contacts in “high-risk” settings (i.e. fire suppression and paratransit)
  • On-demand for other essential (i.e. winter operations, forestry, etc.) and non-essential services (i.e. recreation, etc.)

There is a limited supply of rapid antigen test kits available to the City – need to use in the higher risk areas (i.e. fire and specialized transit). Rapid tests will be used as needed in consultation with department and HR Health & Safety

Masking health & safety measures are being expanded (e.g. use of N95 respirators) to aid in minimizing transmission.

Parking Administrative Monetary Policy Hearings
  • Moving hearings from in-person to telephone.
Service Burlington
  • In-person service at City Hall by appointment only for commissioning services and marriage licences

Resolution for Measures to Support the Survival of Small Businesses During Modified Step 2 of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen

WHEREAS In May 2020 the City of Burlington and Team Burlington (Burlington Economic Development, Burlington Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Burlington, Burlington Downtown Business Association and the Aldershot Village BIA) formed the Burlington Economic Recovery Network (BERN). The Burlington Economic Recovery Network has strategically brought together key stakeholders and business leaders from across Burlington to develop a robust local strategy that will
prepare our economy for recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

WHEREAS When the Province of Ontario entered modified Step 2 of the Roadmap to Reopening on January 5, 2022, the restrictions forced many small businesses to either close their doors or significantly decrease their capacity until January 26, 2022;

WHEREAS Both supply chain issues in the procurement of rapid tests and recent changes to criteria for PCR testing have left many critical supply chain manufacturers and their workers without testing to ensure worker safety and minimize workplace COVID-19 outbreaks;

WHEREAS The Ontario Chamber of Commerce met with the Honorable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance, to discuss business concerns and wrote an open letter to the minister requesting immediate business support which can be read in the appendix;

WHEREAS The Province of Ontario announced the Ontario Small Business Relief grant on January 7, 2022, we continue to ask that the full $20,000 grant be reinstated inline with the 2021 grant and that access be expanded to businesses who are not fully closed but required to reduce capacity.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT Burlington City Council, in partnership with the Burlington Economic Recovery Network (BERN) and Team Burlington, call on the Provincial governments to provide the supports outlined in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce letter Re: Dire Straits for Ontario’s Small Businesses including:

  • Extend the Small Business Support Grant for a third round targeted towards all businesses whose revenues are directly and/or indirectly impacted by current public health restrictions. Eligibility should include businesses previously eligible for the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant and businesses losing revenue as a result of restrictions affecting their clients (e.g. food service suppliers).
  • Work with the federal government to increase rental subsidies provided under the newly expanded Local Lockdown Program similar to the enhanced Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by public health restrictions.
  • Immediately open the recently announced portal which would allow businesses to access rebates for property taxes and utilities, accompanied by rapid disbursements for eligible business expenses.
  • Expand access to rapid antigen tests and PCR testing, with priority given to Ontarians unable to work from home, both to limit unnecessary isolation time and allow workers to demonstrate eligibility for paid sick days and other supports.
  • Work with financial institutions and the federal government to forgive loans for businesses most severely impacted by public health restrictions.
  • Offer an additional grant to businesses required to implement the government’s enhanced vaccine certification protocols and to cover increased pandemicrelated expenses for PPE, improved ventilation etc.

AND FURTHER THAT The Mayor and Council representative on BERN be directed to write a letter, jointly with BERN and Team Burlington, advocating for the actions outlined above to support the survival of small businesses to the Premier of Ontario.

AND THAT The City Clerk be directed to send a copy of the letter and resolution, once approved, to:
• The Premier of Ontario
• Provincial Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction
• Provincial Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade
• Provincial Minister of Health
• Provincial Minister of Finance
• Burlington Members of Provincial Parliament Jane McKenna, Effie Triantafilopoulos and Parm Gill
• Halton Regional Council
• Councils of the Towns of Milton, Halton Hills and Oakville
• Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO)
• Ontario Big City Mayor’s Caucus (OBCM)
• Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO)
• GTHA Mayors and Chairs
• Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC)
• Milton Chamber of Commerce
• Halton Hills Chamber of Commerce
• Oakville Chamber of Commerce
• Team Burlington (Burlington Economic Development, Burlington Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Burlington, Burlington Downtown Business Association and Aldershot Village BIA)
• Burlington Economic Recovery Network (BERN)
• Burlington Restaurant Association

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Administrator

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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